Palestinians displaced by Israeli strikes wait to get water from portable tanks near a makeshift encampment behind Gaza’s al-Shifa hospital, July 26, 2014. (Joe Catron)
UNITED NATIONS — Israeli restrictions on Palestinian water use, as well as damage to water supplies and infrastructure by both Israeli forces and Jewish settlers, continue to deplete the already limited water supplies available to millions of Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.
“Water is used by the Israelis to achieve non-water interests, as a tool of punishment,” Dr. Abed Elrahman Tamimi, director of the Palestinian Hydrology Group in Ramallah, told MintPress News.
Meanwhile tens of thousands of Palestinians within Israel continue to lack access to running water, despite their citizenship in the state and the equality they should receive under its laws.
Israel has limited the water available to Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and West Bank since its forces occupied the enclaves, placing them under military rule, in 1967.
‘Scandalously uneven, humiliating and infuriating’
The Oslo II Accord, signed by Israel and Palestine Liberation Organization on Sept. 28, 1995, formalized this disparity, imposing what Israeli newspaper Haaretz writer Amira Hass called “a scandalously uneven, humiliating and infuriating division of the water resources of the West Bank.”
The agreement afforded Palestinians 118 million cubic meters of water per year from the Mountain Aquifer that stretches into Israel from the West Bank, while obligating Israel to sell Palestinians a further 27.9 mcm annually at full price.
It also entitled Israel to claim 483 mcm per year – over four times as much – but allocated none to the Gaza Strip, which was left to rely on the small Coastal Aquifer.
According to its own terms, Oslo II should have terminated in Palestinian independence after five years, with a joint committee increasing Palestine’s water allocation through consensus in the meantime. Neither scenario has come to pass.
In coming years, Israel would make clear that it had no intention of ever ending its control of Palestinian water. A June 7, 1997 order reiterated its longstanding policy: “All the water in the land that was occupied again is the property of the State of Israel.”
Successive governments pushed new waves of settlement construction, universally considered war crimes under the fourth Geneva Convention, on Palestinian lands in the West Bank. By 2000, the number of settlers had swelled 26 percent.
Like earlier settlements, the sites of many new units were calculated to maximize Israeli control of Palestinian water. In 2001, then-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told Haaretz : “Is it possible today to concede control of the aquifer, which supplies a third of our water? Is it possible to cede the buffer zone in the Jordan Rift Valley? You know, it’s not by accident that the settlements are located where they are.”
Israeli measures to cement its occupation, along with provocative raids of the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, ultimately produced the Second Intifada, a Palestinian uprising that erupted on Sept. 28, 2000, five years to the day after Oslo II.
A vicious water cycle
Palestinians currently use no more than 11 percent of the Mountain Aquifer, with Israel enjoying the rest, according to the Emergency Water, Sanitation and Hygiene group (EWASH), a coalition of 28 Palestinian and international agencies dealing with water issues in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Meanwhile, West Bank Palestinians purchase 50 mcm of water each year from Mekorot, Israel’s national water company, paying $50 million for the return of their own resources at prices up to three times those charged to Israeli consumers.
Oslo II obligated Israel to increase its water sales to Palestinians in the Gaza Strip from 5 to 10 mcm annually during the supposed five-year “interim period.” But only this year, following widespread condemnation of its military operation against the besieged enclave last summer, did it finally do so, meeting 5 percent of the water needs of a population that has more than doubled.
On September 1, a United Nations Conference on Trade and Development report repeated a warning, first made by the UN’s Country Team for the occupied Palestinian territory in 2012, that the Gaza Strip could become unlivable by 2020.
UNCTAD cited the destruction of Gaza infrastructure during repeated Israeli offensives, including damage to 20-30% of the enclave’s water and sewer network, a water desalination plant, and 220 agricultural wells during last summer’s 51-day operation alone, as well as Israeli restrictions on economic development and reconstruction.
It also warned that “a severe water crisis” had forced the use of water from the Coastal Aquifer — 95% of it unfit for drinking — at levels “well above the recharge rate by over 100 million cubic meters, almost twice the sustainable rate.”
“The over-abstraction and scarcity of drinking water have been exacerbated by crumbling sanitation infrastructure, while the blockade creates chronic shortages of electricity and fuel, which in turn aggravate contamination and the water crisis,” the report said.
“The damage of contamination and over-abstraction is such that the aquifer may be unusable by 2016 and, if unaddressed, the damage may be irreversible by 2020.”
The total damage inflicted to the water sector by Israeli strikes last summer reached over $34 million, according to a report by the Palestinian Water Authority, although UNCTAD’s report says that “long-term repair of the accumulated damage and decay of the water and sanitation infrastructure will require $620 million.”
Palestinians have never extracted their full 118 mcm of water from the Mountain Aquifer, as Israeli restrictions on wells and other infrastructure across most of the West Bank prevent them from doing so.
These military orders stretch into the Gaza Strip, where the threat of airstrikes forces residents hoping to dig wells to first seek permits from the Israeli army.
While sometimes given there, such permission is usually denied in Area C, the 60 percent of the West Bank under direct Israeli military administration, often on the claimed basis of Israeli security.
Israel targets unauthorized construction ruthlessly. Since the beginning of this year, its forces have destroyed 36 Palestinian water, hygiene and sanitation structures in Area C, usually citing their lack of permits, according to United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs data reviewed by EWASH.
Rare permits come at high prices. A 2013 study found that Israel usually conditions its approval of Palestinian water projects on the Palestinian Authority’s acquiescence to the construction of new settlement infrastructure, forcing the occupied population to “consent to their own colonization.”
As Palestinians, particularly in agricultural communities, scramble to meet their needs for water, Israel’s demolition of the necessary infrastructure, from pipes in Kafr Qaddum and Khirbet Yarza to wells in Hebron, continues.
The pollution resulting from the destruction of wastewater treatment facilities has further damaged Gaza’s already depleted aquifer, rendering over 90 percent of local water unfit for drinking.
In the West Bank, 73.5 percent of Palestinians have expressed satisfaction with the quality of their water.
Yet the quantity remains woefully inadequate, as the average Palestinian can use only 70 liters of water per day – a figure that dips to 20 in some cases – while illegal Israeli settlers enjoy over 300. The World Health Organization suggests a minimum of 100 liters of water per day for sanitation, hygiene and consumption.
Confronted by a lack of water in some areas of the West Bank, and nearly all of the Gaza Strip, Palestinians face the “economic burden of purchasing water from tankers,” the Palestinian Hydrology Group’s Dr. Tamimi said.
In a March 2013 report, the Ramallah-based human rights group Al-Haq called Israel’s “demarcation of the population along racial lines,” their “segregation into different geographical areas” and the “use of ‘security’ to justify an institutionalized regime of domination and systematic oppression,” “the three pillars of Israel’s ‘water-apartheid.’”
“[A] second and disadvantaged Palestinian society living in the same territory is denied most of its basic rights,” Al-Haq stated. “Palestinians are forcibly confined to a land-locked archipelago of territory with minimal water resources available.”
This gross asymmetry extends inside Israel, where a June 2014 report by the Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality found that 73,000 Palestinian Bedouin, living in villages unrecognized by the state, lacked sufficient running water.
Despite paying 30 percent more than other consumers for the meager supplies of water they received, the Israeli Ministry of Health did not monitor its quality.
Palestinian water supplies face further threats from pollution by Israeli waste, both dumped from nearby illegal settlements and shipped from inside Israel.
A June 2013 Israeli state report found that a third of sewage treatment facilities in settlements were either insufficient or inoperative.
The previous year, it reported, 2.2 mcm of waste had flowed from settlements directly into nearby waterways and cesspits.
As many settlements stand on hills, much of this untreated sewage then becomes the problem of neighboring Palestinian communities whose farmlands and groundwater it pollutes.
“The settlement wastewater goes to the aquifers and pollutes the groundwater,” Dr. Tamimi said.
The city of Salfit and nearby town of Kafr al-Deek have been repeatedly drenched with sewage from the settlements of Ariel and Yakir, most recently on Wednesday, affecting their agriculture and tourism, as well as local water supplies.
“Josephine,” a volunteer for the Ramallah-based International Solidarity Movement, noted that settlement pollution does not stop with sewage. “Many factories let out polluted water and waste into the water sources that Palestinians use,” she told MintPress.
In February, after Palestinian customs police discovered a truck transporting asbestos from Israel to a landfill in Tulkarem, the Palestinian Environment Quality Authority warned against attempts to smuggle Israeli waste into the West Bank.
‘A form of racism’
On July 2, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel announced that Israel’s High Court had ruled in favor of its clients, Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem who had faced years of water shortages and cutoffs.
Their neighborhoods, lying within the Jerusalem boundaries claimed by Israel but beyond its West Bank barrier, had been “perennially neglected by both municipal and national water authorities,” ACRI said.
The court’s ruling ordered the National Security Council to “investigate and work to mitigate the water crisis in East Jerusalem.”
By the following month, a new water crisis had gripped Palestinian communities throughout the West Bank as governorates in Hebron, Bethlehem, Nablus, Jenin and the Jordan Valley resorted to water schedules announcing planned cutoffs.
These windows of austerity, many Palestinians say, are nothing new. They often occur when demand for water is at its height, like during the hot summer months. Still, they never result in cutoffs inside illegal settlements or in Israel itself.
This disparate treatment, some think, aptly demonstrates the nature of the occupation itself. As Palestinian National Initiative leader Mustafa Barghouti put it: “Restricting water and electricity is a form of racism.”
Israel’s government no longer bothers to deny the intended permanence of its occupation. Last week, as Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely readied a diplomatic offensive against a pending European Union policy to label settlement products, she told the Times of Israel that withdrawals from “Judea and Samaria aren’t even on the list of options we’re offering the Palestinians.”
The occupied West Bank will remain under Israel’s “de facto sovereignty,” Hotovely said.
“It’s not a bargaining chip. It does not depend on the Palestinians’ goodwill. It’s the land of our forefathers. We don’t intend to evacuate it,” she continued, adding: “What I can promise is that Israel’s position will be very forceful and tough on this matter.”
If the peevish expression on Barack Obama’s face was any indication, Vladimir Putin is a force in the world who cannot be ignored. Ever since Russia annexed Crimea in response to the United States – and NATO – backed coup in Ukraine, Obama and the corporate media have falsely declared that Putin is isolated from the rest of the world. They claim he is a monster, a despot and an irrelevance on the world stage.
While the G8 member nations turned themselves into the G7 in order to snub Russia, president Putin was making friends elsewhere. He may have been isolated from the United States and its clique, but not from China and the other BRICS nations or Syria or Iran or Iraq. While western nations use the Islamic State (ISIS) as a ruse to exact regime change in Syria, Putin has formed an alliance to carry out the task of eradicating that danger which was created by western intervention.
Presidents Obama and Putin both made their respective cases before the United Nations General Assembly at its annual meeting. Obama’s speech was an apologia for imperialism and American aggression. He repeated the lies which no one except uninformed Americans believe. If he calls a leader a tyrant he claims the right to destroy a nation and kill and displace its people. Despite the living hell that the United States made out of Libya, Obama continues to defend his crime. He blandly adds that “our coalition could have and should have done more to fill a vacuum left behind.” Apparently he hopes that no one is paying attention to the horrors inflicted on Libya or the ripple effect which created numerous other humanitarian crises.
Not content to defend the indefensible, the president made it clear that the Obama doctrine of regime change and terror is alive and well. “I lead the strongest military that the world has ever known, and I will never hesitate to protect my country or our allies, unilaterally and by force where necessary.”
In contrast, the man labeled a dictator acknowledged the importance of respecting every nation’s sovereignty. “Rather than bringing about reforms, an aggressive foreign interference has resulted in a brazen destruction of national institutions and life itself. Instead of the triumph of democracy and progress, we got violence, poverty and social disaster. Nobody cares a bit about human rights, including the right to life.” Making good use of his time in the spotlight, he made clear that he wasn’t fooled or cowed by the United States. “I cannot help asking those who have caused the situation, do you realize now what you’ve done? But I am afraid no one is going to answer that. Indeed, policies based on self-conceit and belief in one’s exceptionality and impunity have never been abandoned.”
Obviously Putin has self-interest in supporting his allies in Syria and for fighting ISIS. He acknowledged that his country is at risk from some of its own citizens who have sworn an allegiance to that group. Nonetheless, it is important that at least one nation in the world is capable of standing up to American state sponsored destruction and is willing to take action in that effort. Before the United Nations proceedings took place, Russia announced that it would share intelligence with Iran, Iraq and Syria in order to combat ISIS. If the United States were true to its word, that alliance would be welcomed instead of scorned.
Not since the late Hugo Chavez declared that George W. Bush left a “smell of sulfur” has an American president been so openly confronted at the United Nations. Putin’s presence makes it clear that Obama can no longer expect to carry out his international dirty work without effective opposition.
While the corporate media noted the tense photo opportunity between the two presidents they neglected to mention the real issues behind the bad feelings. At a press conference after his address Putin was asked about French president Hollande’s insistence that Assad leave the Syrian presidency. “I relate to my colleagues the American and French presidents with great respect but they aren’t citizens of Syria and so should not be involved in choosing the leadership of another country.”
That simple statement explains the totality of American enmity towards Russia. The NATO nations claim a right to choose leaders, create and support their own terrorist groups and destroy anyone who doesn’t do what they want. Putin is making a case for non-interference and that makes him persona non grata in the eyes of the supposedly more democratic West.
The world ought to fear pax Americana, not a Russian military presence in Syria. There cannot be true peace and stability unless nations and peoples are left to their own devices. The helping hand of United States democracy is anything but. It is a recipe for disaster and requires forceful opposition. If Russia can be a reliable counterforce the whole world will benefit, even if Barack Obama frowns before the cameras.
Margaret Kimberley can be reached via e-Mail at Margaret.Kimberley(at)BlackAgendaReport.com.
Dozens of Israeli settlers raided a park and ancient pool in the Palestinian town of al-Karmil in the southern occupied West Bank on Wednesday, under the armed protection of Israeli forces, witnesses said.
The park, part of the Yatta Municipality in the south Hebron hills, lies in Area A, under full Palestinian jurisdiction according to the Oslo Accords.
Buses carrying the settlers arrived to the park escorted by large numbers of Israeli forces and military vehicles, locals said.
Settlers came from the nearby settlements of Maon, Karmel, Beit Yatir, Susya, and the outposts of Havat Yair, Mitzpe Yair, Havat Maon, and Avigal, in order to “perform religious rituals” for several hours, they added.
The mayor of Yatta, Moussa Makhamreh, condemned the raid, pointing to the “dangerous nature of Israeli authorities’ and settlers’ racist actions taken under armed security.”
Makhamreh called upon local governance to support and protect the park in order to end frequent violations by Israeli settlers in the area.
An Israeli army spokesperson had no immediate information on the incident.
The park was created in 2011 by the Palestinian Yatta municipality, which renovated an ancient pool located at the site.
Settlers have come to the area in the past through the initiative of the Susiya Tour and Study Center which describes the pool as the historical site of the Biblical settlement of Carmel, according to rights group B’Tselem. Such visits are generally approved by and coordinated with Israeli authorities.
In April, Israeli soldiers expelled Palestinians from the pool in order to allow settlers to swim and have exclusive use of the park.
Around 3,000 Israeli settlers live in Jewish-only settlements in the Yatta region according to the Applied Research Institute – Jerusalem.
The presence of settlements in the area, considered illegal under international law, comes at the expense of Palestinian residents’ ability to build homes and infrastructure, or live unimpeded by constant and often violent interruption from Israeli forces and settlers.
TEHRAN – There’s going to be no solution to the Afghan crisis, and it’s all Obama’s fault.
At a time when the people of Afghanistan seek the international community’s help for peace and prosperity, the United States has decided to scrap their pullout plans once again, leaving thousands of occupying troops behind through the end of President Obama’s final term in office.
The silly argument by those in favor of increasing the American troops in place is largely the same throughout the war, that the Afghan government isn’t capable of beating the Taliban on their own, and that a US pullout would add pressure to that struggling military.
Conceivably, American troops may end up being there for many decades because this is where the action is. What’s more, US generals say they need more troops. In this fallacy, their call for a bigger deployment has forced Obama to consider different options while Republicans have lambasted him for letting political motivations override the needs of commanders.
The Pentagon insists Obama’s failure to promptly back their surge could dishonor America, while corporate media say no matter what the president wants, it will be very hard to stop the army generals. And that’s exactly what Obama, mired in proverbial perplexity, is not doing right now: In Washington, the Pentagon and the warmongers have the final say.
“Avoiding another Vietnam,” says this school of thought, “requires a figurehead government – one that delegates all military decision-making power to generals and effectively strips it from elected civilians who will supposedly be too politically motivated.” This authoritarian ideology explains not only the spiteful reaction to Obama’s Afghanistan deliberations but also some of the most anti-democratic statements ever uttered by American leaders.
It explains, for instance, former Vice President Dick Cheney’s assertion that “public opinion doesn’t matter when it comes to military policy.” Nevertheless, it is the US Constitution which gives political figures in Washington the final say: Article I empowers Congress “to declare and finance wars,” and Article II states that “while the White House may require the opinion of military officers, ultimately the President shall be Commander in Chief.”
In this new world order geopolitical business, Obama and congressional leaders have however decided to defy public will – and international law – by making the terrible choice to escalate the Afghanistan War. This is while the illegal occupation has reached its sell-by date. A majority of Americans now tell presidential candidates the mission was a mistake. Regrettably, the generals who run wars, and the defense contractors who profit from them, want more troops and more war in Afghanistan. And that includes many presidential candidates.
From experience, the military buildup will only ensure more violence, attract more armed opposition, and postpone the day of reckoning among political factions in Afghanistan. It will never have a ghost of a chance of success.
Right on cue, the American people should wisely turn against such a destructive wave that will once again cost too many lives and hundreds of billions of dollars, while only making a terrible situation worse for the Afghans. The American people have the power to stop this madness and folly they know is irresponsible, inconclusive and unpopular. It falls to them to demand an exit strategy and not an escalation. They could start doing so by electing a pacifist president – if there’s any.
British children should be taught about the violent expansionist excesses of British imperialism, according Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn.
Corbyn told young Labour supporters on Monday that the national curriculum should include lessons on how the British Empire expanded “at the expense of people.”
“Perhaps we could do a little bit more about how history is taught in our schools,” said Corbyn, who is a lifelong anti-imperialist and peace campaigner.
He said that while “the history of European expansion is important” there are “two other things that need to be added to that.”
“One is the expansion of one empire at the expense of people where that empire is expanding. You need to get the story from the people where that empire is expanding into rather than those that came there to take control of it.”
In July, Indian politician Shashi Tharoor made a passionate speech at the University of Oxford claiming his country was entitled to financial compensation after centuries of exploitation and foreign rule.
The video of Tharoor’s speech was viewed more than 1.5 million times on YouTube and reported on in the Indian press.
“Britain’s rise for 200 years was financed by its depredations in India. We paid for our own oppression. It’s a bit rich to oppress, maim, kill, torture and repress and then celebrate democracy at the end of it,” Tharoor said in the debate.
He further said Indians had “paid for [their] own oppression” by buying British goods, arguing that by the turn of the 20th century they were the biggest buyers of British products in the world.
Corbyn also said young people should be taught about the history of trade unions and their contribution to modern Britain.
The refugee crisis in Europe could be easily solved. The problem is that the real solution would not suit the the political establishment of the United States or Western Europe. We’ve distilled what needs to be done down to 5 simple steps.
- Stop funding and arming rebel groups attempting to overthrow the Syrian government. It’s well established that these weapons have been ending up in the hands of ISIS and its affiliates. This has caused nothing but chaos and destruction. Money being funneled into these shady operations should be immediately redirected to an intensive reconstruction effort.
- Pressure Turkey and Jordan to cut off ISIS supply routes, and impose sanctions on any country facilitating the sale of oil from IS territory or allowing funds or materials to reach them. No army can function if their supply chain is broken. It’s not an accident these routes start at the Turkish and Jordanian borders.
- Support the Syrian government. An entire year of U.S. airstrikes in Syria have utterly failed to destroy or even significantly weaken ISIS. Of course this is because the real strategy isn’t to bring ISIS down, but rather to contain them and allow them to weaken Assad gradually. If Washington really wanted to stop this group, they would take a hint from Russia and provide the Syrian government with weapons, training and logistical support to enable them to push ISIS back. This means Washington and its allies would have to officially abandon all plans for a forced regime change. They might not like Assad, but the majority of the citizens of Syria support him. In fact he has more support within his country than Obama or the U.S. congress have in America. And at various intervals he’s had more support than Congress and Obama combined. Any government installed after a U.S. backed regime change will be viewed as a puppet government, and will therefore lack the legitimacy needed to stabilize the region. If you need evidence of this, just look at Afghanistan or Iraq.
- Provide direct assistance to rebuild housing, infrastructure and businesses destroyed by the conflict. In the short term temporary refugee camps should be set up in areas outside of the conflict zone, and food and medical supplies shipped in on a regular basis. Yes this will cost money, but so has the five year regime change push that created the problem in the first place.
- Return the refugees to these stabilized regions. It is in no one’s interest to flood Europe with masses of unemployed refugees. Doing so will only lead to heightened tensions and will strengthen xenophobic movements. These people don’t need to be transplanted into the ghettos of Europe, they need their homes back.
Three-year-old Maram Abed al-Latif al-Qaddumi was shot in the head by Israeli forces with a rubber bullet in the occupied West Bank town of Kafr Qaddum.
NABLUS – The chief of police in the Nablus district and his three-year-old daughter were injured after being shot by Israeli forces with rubber-coated bullets on Friday during a raid in the village of Kafr Qaddum in Qalqiliya.
A Fatah leader in Kafr Qaddum, Murad Ishteiwi, told Ma’an that Israeli forces directly shot at three-year-old Maram Abed al-Latif al-Qaddumi, injuring her with a rubber-coated steel bullet in the head while she was standing on a balcony in her home.
Isheiwi added that when her father, Colonel Abd al-Latif al-Qaddumi, attempted to aid her and take her to the hospital in his car, Israeli forces opened fire, injuring him in the head.
They were both taken to the Rafidia Governmental Hospital in Nablus where their injuries were reported as moderate. Both are currently in a stable condition.
Ishteiwi said that Israeli forces had raided the area and set up several ambushes inside of the town in an attempt to prevent the weekly Kafr Qaddum march.
An Israeli army spokesperson didn’t have any immediate information but told Ma’an they were looking into the incident.
On Sept. 11, Israeli military forces raided the house of al-Qaddumi, and turned his home into a military outpost after evicting his wife and children.
Days earlier, Israeli forces held al-Qaddumi for more than an hour near the entrance of Hijja village west of Nablus.
Last week Israeli forces shot and injured a 14-year-old with live fire in Kafr Qaddum during a demonstration.
An Israeli army spokesperson told Ma’an that there was a “riot” in Kafr Qaddum, where protesters threw rocks and rolled burning tires at Israeli forces, who opened fire “using .22 caliber rounds towards the extremities of the main instigator and a hit was confirmed.”
A weekly average of 39 Palestinians have been injured by Israeli forces since the start of 2015. The majority of injuries sustained by Palestinians occur during unarmed demonstrations.
Rights organizations have argued that methods of crowd control used by Israeli forces often result in excessive, and sometimes fatal, use of force.
Residents of Kafr Qaddum carry out weekly demonstrations in protest of the now 13-year closure of the main street out of the village, which leads to nearby Nablus — the area’s economic hub.
Kafr Qaddum has also lost large swathes of its land to Israeli settlements, outposts and the separation wall, all illegal under international law.
In a rare interview with Russian media outlets, RT among them, Syrian leader Bashar Assad spoke about global and domestic terrorism threats, the need for a united front against jihadism, Western propaganda about the refugee crisis and ways to bring peace to his war-torn nation.
Question 1:Mr. President, thank you from the Russian media, from RT, from Rossiyskaya Gazeta, Channel 1, Russia 24, RIA Novosti, and NTV channel, for giving us all the opportunity to talk to you during this very critical phase of the crisis in Syria, where there are many questions that need to be addressed on where exactly the political process to achieve peace in Syria is heading, what’s the latest developments on the fight against ISIL, and the status of the Russian and Syrian partnership, and of course the enormous exodus of Syrian refugees that has been dominating headlines in Europe.
Now, the crisis in Syria is entering its fifth year. You have defied all predictions by Western leaders that you would be ousted imminently, and continue to serve today as the President of the Syrian Arab Republic. Now, there has been a lot of speculation recently caused by reports that officials from your government met with officials from your adversary Saudi Arabia that caused speculation that the political process in Syria has entered a new phase, but then statements from Saudi Arabia that continue to insist on your departure suggest that in fact very little has changed despite the grave threat that groups like ISIL pose far beyond Syria’s borders.
So, what is your position on the political process? How do you feel about power sharing and working with those groups in the opposition that continue to say publically that there can be no political solution in Syria unless that includes your immediate departure? Have they sent you any signal that they are willing to team up with you and your government? In addition to that, since the beginning of the crisis in Syria, many of those groups were calling to you to carry out reforms and political change. But is such change even possible now under the current circumstances with the war and the ongoing spread of terror in Syria?
President Assad: Let me first divide this question. It’s a multi question in one question. The first part regarding the political process, since the beginning of the crisis we adopted the dialogue approach, and there were many rounds of dialogue between Syrians in Syria, in Moscow, and in Geneva. Actually, the only step that has been made or achieved was in Moscow 2, not in Geneva, not in Moscow 1, and actually it’s a partial step, it’s not a full step, and that’s natural because it’s a big crisis. You cannot achieve solutions in a few hours or a few days. It’s a step forward, and we are waiting for Moscow 3. I think we need to continue the dialogue between the Syrian entities, political entities or political currents, in parallel with fighting terrorism in order to achieve or reach a consensus about the future of Syria. So, that’s what we have to continue.
If I jump to the last part, because it’s related to this one, is it possible to achieve anything taking into consideration the prevalence of terrorism in Syria and in Iraq and in the region in general? We have to continue dialogue in order to reach the consensus as I said, but if you want to implement anything real, it’s impossible to do anything while you have people being killed, bloodletting hasn’t stopped, people feel insecure. Let’s say we sit together as Syrian political parties or powers and achieve a consensus regarding something in politics, in economy, in education, in health, in everything. How can we implement it if the priority of every single Syrian citizen is to be secure? So, we can achieve consensus, but we cannot implement unless we defeat the terrorism in Syria. We have to defeat terrorism, not only ISIS.
I’m talking about terrorism, because you have many organizations, mainly ISIS and al-Nusra that were announced as terrorist groups by the Security Council. So, this is regarding the political process. Sharing power, of course we already shared it with some part of the opposition that accepted to share it with us. A few years ago they joined the government. Although sharing power is related to the constitution, to the elections, mainly parliamentary elections, and of course representation of the Syrian people by those powers. But in spite of that, because of the crisis, we said let’s share it now, let’s do something, a step forward, no matter how effective.
Regarding the refugee crisis, I will say now that Western dealing in the Western propaganda recently, mainly during the last week, regardless of the accusation that those refugees are fleeing the Syrian government, but they call it regime, of course. Actually, it’s like the West now is crying for the refugees with one eye and aiming at them with a machinegun with the second one, because actually those refugees left Syria because of the terrorism, mainly because of the terrorists and because of the killing, and second because of the results of terrorism. When you have terrorism, and you have the destruction of the infrastructure, you won’t have the basic needs of living, so many people leave because of the terrorism and because they want to earn their living somewhere in this world.
So, the West is crying for them, and the West is supporting terrorists since the beginning of the crisis when it said that this was a peaceful uprising, when they said later it’s moderate opposition, and now they say there is terrorism like al-Nusra and ISIS, but because of the Syrian state or the Syrian regime or the Syrian president. So, as long as they follow this propaganda, they will have more refugees. So, it’s not about that Europe didn’t accept them or embrace them as refugees, it’s about not dealing with the cause. If you are worried about them, stop supporting terrorists. That’s what we think regarding the crisis. This is the core of the whole issue of refugees.
President Assad: As you know, we are at war with terrorism, and this terrorism is supported by foreign powers. It means that we are in a state of complete war. I believe that any society and any patriotic individuals, and any parties which truly belong to the people should unite when there is a war against an enemy; whether that enemy is in the form of domestic terrorism or foreign terrorism. If we ask any Syrian today about what they want, the first thing they would say is: we want security and safety for every person and every family.
So we, as political forces, whether inside or outside the government, should unite around what the Syrian people want. That means we should first unite against terrorism. That is logical and self-evident. That’s why I say that we have to unite now as political forces, or government, or as armed groups which fought against the government, in order to fight terrorism. This has actually happened.
There are forces fighting terrorism now alongside the Syrian state, which had previously fought against the Syrian state. We have made progress in this regard, but I would like to take this opportunity to call on all forces to unite against terrorism, because it is the way to achieve the political objectives which we, as Syrians, want through dialogue and political action.
Intervention: Concerning the Moscow-3 and Geneva-3 conferences; in your opinion, are there good prospects for them?
President Assad: The importance of Moscow-3 lies in the fact that it paves the way to Geneva-3, because the international sponsorship in Geneva was not neutral, while the Russian sponsorship is. It is not biased, and is based on international law and Security Council resolutions. Second, there are substantial differences around the ‘transitional body’ item in Geneva. Moscow-3 is required to solve these problems between the different Syrian parties; and when we reach Geneva-3, it is ensured that there is a Syrian consensus which would enable it to succeed. We believe that it is difficult for Geneva-3 to succeed unless Moscow-3 does. That’s why we support holding this round of negotiations in Moscow after preparations for the success of this round have been completed, particularly by the Russian officials.
Question 3: I would like to continue with the issue of international cooperation in order to solve the Syrian crisis. It’s clear that Iran, since solving the nuclear issue, will play a more active role in regional affairs. How would you evaluate recent Iranian initiatives on reaching a settlement for the situation in Syria? And, in general, what is the importance of Tehran’s support for you? Is there military support? And, if so, what form does it take?
President Assad: At present, there is no Iranian initiative. There are ideas or principles for an Iranian initiative based primarily on Syria’s sovereignty, the decisions of the Syrian people and on fighting terrorism. The relationship between Syria and Iran is an old one. It is over three-and-a-half decades old. There is an alliance based on a great degree of trust. That’s why we believe that the Iranian role is important. Iran supports Syria and the Syrian people. It stands with the Syrian state politically, economically and militarily. When we say militarily, it doesn’t mean – as claimed by some in the Western media – that Iran has sent an army or armed forces to Syria. That is not true. It sends us military equipment, and of course there is an exchange of military experts between Syria and Iran. This has always been the case, and it is natural for this cooperation to grow between the two countries in a state of war. Yes, Iranian support has been essential to support Syria in its steadfastness in this difficult and ferocious war.
Question 4: Concerning regional factors and proponents, you recently talked about security coordination with Cairo in fighting terrorism, and that you are in the same battle line in this regard. How is your relationship with Cairo today given that it hosts some opposition groups? Do you have a direct relationship, or perhaps through the Russian mediator, particularly in light of the strategic relations between Russia and Egypt. President Sisi has become a welcome guest in Moscow today.
President Assad: Relations between Syria and Egypt have not ceased to exist even over the past few years, and even when the president was Mohammed Morsi, who is a member of the terrorist Muslim Brotherhood organisation. Egyptian institutions insisted on maintaining a certain element of this relationship. First, because the Egyptian people are fully aware of what is happening in Syria, and second because the battle we are fighting is practically against the same enemy. This has now become clearer to everyone. Terrorism has spread in Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Syria, Iraq, in other Arab countries, and in some Muslim countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan and others. That’s why I can say that there is joint vision between us and the Egyptians; but our relationship exists now on a security level. There are no political relations. I mean, there are no contacts between the Syrian Foreign Ministry and the Egyptian Foreign Ministry, for instance. Contacts are done on a security level only. We understand the pressures that might be applied on Egypt or on both Syria and Egypt so that they don’t have a strong relationship. This relationship does not go, of course, through Moscow. As I said, this relationship has never ceased to exist, but we feel comfortable about improving relations between Russia and Egypt. At the same time, there is a good, strong and historical relation between Moscow and Damascus, so it is natural for Russia to feel comfortable for any positive development in relations between Syria and Egypt.
Question 5: Mr. President, allow me to go back to the question of fighting terrorism. How do you look at the idea of creating a region free of ISIS terrorists in the north of the country on the border with Turkey? In that context, what do you say about the indirect cooperation between the West and terrorist organizations like the al-Nusra Front and other extremist groups? And with whom are you willing to cooperate and fight against ISIS terrorists?
President Assad: To say that the border with Turkey should be free of terrorism means that terrorism is allowed in other regions. That is unacceptable. Terrorism should be eradicated everywhere; and we have been calling for three decades for an international coalition to fight terrorism. But as for Western cooperation with the al-Nusra Front, this is reality, because we know that Turkey supports al-Nusra and ISIS by providing them with arms, money and terrorist volunteers. And it is well-known that Turkey has close relations with the West. Erdogan and Davutoglu cannot make a single move without coordinating first with the United States and other Western countries. Al-Nusra and ISIS operate with such a force in the region under Western cover, because Western states have always believed that terrorism is a card they can pull from their pocket and use from time to time. Now, they want to use al-Nusra just against ISIS, maybe because ISIS is out of control one way or another. But that doesn’t mean they want to eradicate ISIS. Had they wanted to do so, they would have been able to do that. For us, ISIS, al-Nusra, and all similar organizations which carry weapons and kill civilians are extremist organizations.
But who we conduct dialogue with is a very important question. From the start we said that we engage in dialogue with any party, if that dialogue leads to degrading terrorism and consequently achieve stability. This naturally includes the political powers, but there are also armed groups with whom we conducted dialogue and reached agreement in troubled areas which have become quiet now. In other areas, these armed groups joined the Syrian Army and are fighting by its side, and some of their members became martyrs. So we talk to everyone except organizations I mentioned like ISIS, al-Nusra, and other similar ones for the simple reason that these organizations base their doctrine on terrorism. They are ideological organizations and are not simply opposed to the state, as is the case with a number of armed groups. Their doctrine is based on terrorism, and consequently dialogue with such organizations cannot lead to any real result. We should fight and eradicate them completely and talking to them is absolutely futile.
Intervention: When talking about regional partners, with whom are you prepared to cooperate in fighting terrorism?
President Assad: Certainly with friendly countries, particularly Russia and Iran. Also we are cooperating with Iraq because it faces the same type of terrorism. As for other countries, we have no veto on any country provided that it has the will to fight terrorism and not as they are doing in what is called “the international coalition” led by the United States. In fact, since this coalition started to operate, ISIS has been expanding. In other words, the coalition has failed and has no real impact on the ground. At the same time, countries like Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Western countries which provide cover for terrorism like France, the United States, or others, cannot fight terrorism. You cannot be with and against terrorism at the same time. But if these countries decide to change their policies and realize that terrorism is like a scorpion, if you put it in your pocket, it will sting you. If that happens, we have no objection to cooperating with all these countries, provided it is a real and not a fake coalition to fight terrorism.
Question 6: What is the Syrian army’s current condition? They’ve been fighting for over four years. Are they exhausted by the war, or become stronger as a result of engagement in military operations? And are there reserve forces to support them? I also have another important question: you said a large number of former adversaries have moved to your side and are fighting within the ranks of government forces. How many? And what is the extent of their help in the fight against extremist groups?
President Assad: Of course, war is bad. And any war is destructive, any war weakens any society and any army, no matter how strong or rich a country is. But things cannot be assessed this way. War is supposed to unite society against the enemy. The army becomes the most-important symbol for any society when there is aggression against the country. Society embraces the army, and provides it with all the necessary support, including human resources, volunteers, conscripts, in order to defend the homeland. At the same time, war provides a great deal of expertise to any armed forces practically and militarily. So, there are always positive and negative aspects. We cannot say that the army becomes weaker or stronger. But in return, this social embrace and support for the army provides it with volunteers. So, in answer to your question ‘are there reserves?’… yes, certainly, for without such reserves, the army wouldn’t have been able to stand for four-and-a-half years in a very tough war, particularly since the enemy we fight today has an unlimited supply of people. We have terrorist fighters from over 80 or 90 countries today, so our enemy is enjoying enormous support in various countries, from where people come here to fight alongside the terrorists. As for the army, it’s almost exclusively made of Syrians. So, we have reserve forces, and this is what enables us to carry on. There is also determination. We have reserves not only in terms of human power, but in will as well. We are more determined than ever before to fight and defend our country against terrorists. This is what led some fighters who used to fight against the state at the beginning for varying reasons, discovered they were wrong and decided to join the state. Now they are fighting battles along with the army, and some have actually joined as regular soldiers. Some have kept their weapons, but they are fighting in groups alongside the armed forces in different parts of Syria.
Question 7: Mr. President, Russia has been fighting terrorism for 20 years, and we have seen its different manifestations. It now seems you are fighting it head on. In general, the world is witnessing a new form of terrorism. In the regions occupied by ISIS, they are setting up courts and administrations, and there are reports that it intends to mint its own currency. They are constructing what looks like a state. This in itself might attract new supporters from different countries. Can you explain to us whom are you fighting? Is it a large group of terrorists or is it a new state which intends to radically redraw regional and global borders? What is ISIS today?
President Assad: Of course, the terrorist ISIS groups tried to give the semblance of a state, as you said, in order to attract more volunteers who live on the dreams of the past: that there was an Islamic state acting for the sake of religion. That ideal is unreal. It is deceptive. But no state can suddenly bring a new form to any society. The state should be the product of its society. It should be the natural evolution of that society, to express it. In the end, a state should be a projection of its society. You cannot bring about a state which has a different form and implant it in a society. Here we ask the question: does ISIS, or what they call ‘Islamic State’, have any semblance to Syrian society? Certainly not.
Of course we have terrorist groups, but they are not an expression of society. In Russia, you have terrorist groups today, but they do not project Russian society, nor do they have any semblance to the open and diverse Russian society. That’s why if they tried to mint a currency or have stamps or passports, or have all these forms which indicate the existence of a state, it doesn’t mean they actually exist as a state; first because they are different from the people and, second, because people in those regions flee towards the real state, the Syrian state, the national state. Sometimes they fight them too. A very small minority believes these lies. They are certainly not a state, they are a terrorist group. But if we want to ask about who they are, let’s speak frankly: They are the third phase of the political or ideological poisons produced by the West, aimed at achieving political objectives. The first phase was the Muslim Brotherhood at the turn of the last century. The second phase was al-Qaeda in Afghanistan in order to fight the Soviet Union. And the third phase is ISIS, the al-Nusra Front and these groups. Who are ISIS? And who are these groups? They are simply extremist products of the West.
Question 8: Mr. President, at the beginning of the Syrian crisis, the Kurdish issue started to be discussed more often. Previously, Damascus was severely criticized because of its position towards the Kurdish minority. But now, practically, in some areas, Kurdish formations are your allies in the fight against ISIS. Do you have a specific position towards who the Kurds are to you and who you are to them?
President Assad: First, you cannot say there was a certain state policy concerning the Kurds. A state cannot discriminate between members of its population; otherwise, it creates division in the country. If we had been discriminating between different components of society, the majority of these components wouldn’t have supported the state now, and the country would have disintegrated from the very beginning. For us, the Kurds are part of the Syrian fabric. They are not foreigners – they live in this region like the Arabs, Circassians, Armenians and many other ethnicities and sects who’ve been living in Syria for many centuries. It’s not known when some of them came to this region. Without these groups, there wouldn’t have been a homogenous Syria. So, are they our allies today? No, they are patriotic people. But on the other hand, you cannot put all the Kurds in one category. Like any other Syrian component, there are different currents among them. They belong to different parties. There are those on the left and those on the right. There are tribes, and there are different groups. So, it is not objective to talk about the Kurds as one mass.
There are certain Kurdish demands expressed by some parties, but there are no Kurdish demands for the Kurds. There are Kurds who are integrated fully into society; and I would like to stress that they are not allies at this stage, as some people would like to show. I would like to stress that they are not just allies at this stage, as some suggest. There are many fallen Kurdish soldiers who fought with the army, which means they are an integral part of society. But there are parties which had certain demands, and we addressed some at the beginning of the crisis. There are other demands which have nothing to do with the state, and which the state cannot address. There are things which would relate to the entire population, to the constitution, and the people should endorse these demands before a decision can be taken by the state. In any case, anything proposed should be in the national framework. That’s why I say that we are with the Kurds, and with other components, all of us in alliance to fight terrorism.
This is what I talked about a while ago: that we should unite in order to fight ISIS. After we defeat ISIS, al-Nusra and the terrorists, the Kurdish demands expressed by certain parties can be discussed nationally. There’s no problem with that, we do not have a veto on any demand as long as it is within the framework of Syria’s unity and the unity of the Syrian people and territory, fighting terrorism, Syrian diversity, and the freedom of this diversity in its ethnic, national, sectarian, and religious sense.
Question 9: Mr. President, you partially answered this question, but I would like a more-precise answer, because some Kurdish forces in Syria call for amending the constitution. For instance, setting up a local administration and moving towards autonomy in the north. These statements are becoming more frequent now that the Kurds are fighting ISIS with a certain degree of success. Do you agree with such statements that the Kurds can bet on some kind of gratitude? Is it up for discussion?
President Assad: When we defend our country, we do not ask people to thank us. It is our natural duty to defend our country. If they deserve thanks, then every Syrian citizen defending their country deserves as much. But I believe that defending one’s country is a duty, and when you carry out your duty, you don’t need thanks. But what you have said is related to the Syrian constitution. Today, if you want to change the existing structure in your country, in Russia for instance, let’s say to redraw the borders of the republics, or give one republic powers different to those given to other republics – this has nothing to do with the president or the government. This has to do with the constitution.
The president does not own the constitution and the government does not own the constitution. Only the people own the constitution, and consequently changing the constitution means national dialogue. For us, we don’t have a problem with any demand. As a state, we do not have any objection to these issues as long as they do not infringe upon Syria’s unity and diversity and the freedom of its citizens.
But if there are certain groups or sections in Syria which have certain demands, these demands should be in the national framework, and in dialogue with the Syrian political forces. When the Syrian people agree on taking steps of this kind, which have to do with federalism, autonomy, decentralization or changing the whole political system, this needs to be agreed upon by the Syrian people, and consequently amending the constitution. This is why these groups need to convince the Syrian people of their proposals. In that respect, they are not in dialogue with the state, but rather with the people. When the Syrian people decide to move in a certain direction, and to approve a certain step, we will naturally approve it.
Question 10: Now, the U.S.-led coalition has been carrying out airstrikes on Syrian territory for about one year on the same areas that the Syrian Air Force is also striking ISIL targets, yet there hasn’t been a single incident of the U.S.-led coalition and the Syrian Air Force activity clashing with one another. Is there any direct or indirect coordination between your government and the U.S. coalition in the fight against ISIL?
President Assad: You’d be surprised if I say no. I can tell you that my answer will be not realistic, to say now, while we are fighting the same, let’s say enemy, while we’re attacking the same target in the same area without any coordination and at the same time without any conflict. And actually this is strange, but this is reality. There’s not a single coordination or contact between the Syrian government and the United States government or between the Syrian army and the U.S. army. This is because they cannot confess, they cannot accept the reality that we are the only power fighting ISIS on the ground. For them, maybe, if they deal or cooperate with the Syrian Army, this is like a recognition of our effectiveness in fighting ISIS. This is part of the willful blindness of the U.S. administration, unfortunately.
Question 11: So not event indirectly though, for example the Kurds? Because we know the U.S. is working with the Kurds, and the Kurds have some contacts with the Syrian government. So, not even any indirect coordination?
President Assad: Not even any third party, including the Iraqis, because before they started the attacks, they let us know through the Iraqis. Since then, not a single message or contact through any other party.
Question 12: OK, so just a little bit further than that. You’ve lived in the West, and you, at one time, moved in some of those circles with some Western leaders that since the beginning of the crisis have been backing armed groups who are fighting to see you overthrown. How do you feel about one day working again with those very same Western leaders, perhaps shaking hands with them? Would you ever be able to trust them again?
President Assad: First, it’s not a personal relation; it’s a relation between states, and when you talk about relation between states, you don’t talk about trust; you talk about mechanism. So, trust is a very personal thing you cannot depend on in political relations between, let’s say, people. I mean, you are responsible for, for example in Syria, for 23 million, and let’s say in another country for tens of millions. You cannot put the fate of those tens of millions or maybe hundreds of millions on the trust of a single person, or two persons in two countries. So, there must be a mechanism. When you have a mechanism, you can talk about trust in a different way, not a personal way. This is first.
Second, the main mission of any politician, or any government, president, prime minister, it doesn’t matter, is to work for the interest of his people and the interest of his country. If any meeting or any handshaking with anyone in the world will bring benefit to the Syrian people, I have to do it, whether I like it or not. So, it’s not about me, I accept it or I like it or whatever; it’s about what the added value of this step that you’re going to take. So yes, we are ready whenever there’s the interest of the Syrians. I will do it, whatever it is.
Question 13: Regarding alliances in the fight against terrorism and ISIS, President Putin called for a regional alliance to fight the so-called ‘Islamic State’; and the recent visits of Arab officials to Moscow fall into that context, but Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem said that would need a miracle. We are talking here about security coordination, as described by Damascus, with the governments of Jordan, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. How do you envisage that alliance? Will it achieve any results, in your opinion? You said that any relationship is based on interests, so are you willing to coordinate with these countries, and what is the truth behind the meetings held between Syrian, and maybe Saudi, officials as reported by the media?
President Assad: As for fighting terrorism, this is a big and comprehensive issue which includes cultural and economic aspects. It obviously has security and military aspects as well. In terms of prevention, all the other aspects are more important than the security and military ones, but today, in the reality we now live in terms of fighting terrorism, we are not facing terrorist groups, we are facing terrorist armies equipped with light, medium and heavy weaponry. They have billions of dollars to recruit volunteers. The military and security aspects should be given priority at this stage. So, we think this alliance should act in different areas, but to fight on the ground first. Naturally, this alliance should consist of states which believe in fighting terrorism and believe that their natural position should be against terrorism.
In the current state of affairs, the person supporting terrorism cannot be the same person fighting terrorism. This is what these states are doing now. Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Jordan, who pretend to be part of a coalition against terrorism in northern Syria, actually support terrorism in the south, the north and the north-west, virtually in the same regions in which they are supposed to be fighting terrorism. Once again I say that, within the framework of public interest, if these states decide to go back to the right position, to return to their senses and fight terrorism, naturally we will accept and cooperate with them and with others. We do not have a veto and we do not stick to the past. Politics change all the time. It might change from bad to good, and the ally might become an adversary, and the adversary an ally. This is normal. When they fight against terrorism, we will cooperate with them.
Question 14: Mr. President, there is a huge wave of refugees, largely from Syria, going to Europe. Some say these people are practically lost to Syria. They are deeply unhappy with the Syrian authorities because they haven’t been able to protect them and they’ve had to leave their homes. How do you view those people? Do you see them as part of the Syrian electorate in the future? Do you expect them to return? And the second question has to do with the European sense of guilt about the displacement happening now. Do you think that Europe should feel guilty?
President Assad: Any person who leaves Syria constitutes a loss to the homeland, to be sure, regardless of the position or capabilities of that person. This, of course, does not include terrorists. It includes all citizens in general with the exception of terrorists. So, yes, there is a great loss as a result of emigration. You raised a question on elections. Last year, we had a presidential election in Syria, and there were many refugees in different countries, particularly in Lebanon. According to Western propaganda, they had fled the state, the oppression of the state and the killing of the state, and they are supposed to be enemies of the state. But the surprise for Westerners was that most of them voted for the president who is supposed to be killing them. That was a great blow to Western propaganda. Of course, voting has certain conditions. There should be an embassy, and to have the custodianship of the Syrian state in the voting process. That depends on relations between the states. Many countries have severed relations with Syria and closed Syrian embassies, and consequently Syrian citizens cannot vote in those countries. They have to go to other countries where ballot boxes are installed, and that did happen last year.
As for Europe, of course it’s guilty. Today, Europe is trying to say that Europe feels guilty because it hasn’t given money or hasn’t allowed these people to immigrate legally, and that’s why they came across the sea and drowned. We are sad for every innocent victim, but is the victim who drowns in the sea dearer to us than the victim killed in Syria? Are they dearer than innocent people whose heads are cut off by terrorists? Can you feel sad for a child’s death in the sea and not for thousands of children who have been killed by the terrorists in Syria? And also for men, women, and the elderly? These European double standards are no longer acceptable. They have been flagrantly exposed. It doesn’t make sense to feel sad for the death of certain people and not for deaths of others. The principles are the same. So Europe is responsible because it supported terrorism, as I said a short while ago, and is still supporting terrorism and providing cover for them. It still calls them ‘moderate’ and categorizes them into groups, even though all these groups in Syria are extremists.
Question 15: If you don’t mind, I would like to go back to the question about Syria’s political future. Mr. President, your opponents, whether fighting against the authorities with weapons or your political opponents, still insist that one of the most-important conditions for peace is your departure from political life and as president. What do you think about that – as president and as a Syrian citizen? Are you theoretically prepared for that if you feel it’s necessary?
President Assad: In addition to what you say, Western propaganda has, from the very beginning, been about the cause of the problem being the president. Why? Because they want to portray the whole problem in Syria lies in one individual; and consequently the natural reaction for many people is that, if the problem lies in one individual, that individual should not be more important than the entire homeland. So let that individual go and things will be alright. That’s how they oversimplify things in the West. What’s happening in Syria, in this regard, is similar to what happened in your case. Notice what happened in the Western media since the coup in Ukraine. What happened? President Putin was transformed from a friend of the West to a foe and, yet again, he was characterized as a tsar. He is portrayed as a dictator suppressing opposition in Russia, and that he came to power through undemocratic means, despite the fact that he was elected in democratic elections, and the West itself acknowledged that the elections were democratic. Now, it is no longer democratic. This is Western propaganda. They say that if the president went things will get better. What does that mean, practically? For the West, it means that as long as you are there, we will continue to support terrorism, because the Western principle followed now in Syria and Russia and other countries is changing presidents, changing states, or what they call bringing regimes down. Why? Because they do not accept partners and do not accept independent states. What is their problem with Russia? What is their problem with Syria? What is their problem with Iran? They are all independent countries. They want a certain individual to go and be replaced by someone who acts in their interests and not in the interest of his country. For us, the president comes through the people and through elections and, if he goes, he goes through the people. He doesn’t go as a result of an American decision, a Security Council decision, the Geneva conference or the Geneva communiqué. If the people want him to stay, he should stay; and if the people reject him, he should leave immediately. This is the principle according to which I look at this issue.
Question 16: Military operations have been ongoing for more than four years. It’s likely that you analyze things and review matters often. In your opinion, was there a crucial juncture when you realized war was unavoidable? And who initiated that war machinery? The influence of Washington or your Middle East neighbours? Or were there mistakes on your part? Are there things you regret? And if you had the opportunity to go back, would you change them?
President Assad: In every state, there are mistakes, and mistakes might be made every day, but these mistakes do not constitute a crucial juncture because they are always there. So what is it that makes these mistakes suddenly lead to the situation we are living in Syria today? It doesn’t make sense. You might be surprised if I tell that the crucial juncture in what happened in Syria is something that many people wouldn’t even think of. It was the Iraq war in 2003, when the United States invaded Iraq. We were strongly opposed to that invasion, because we knew that things were moving in the direction of dividing societies and creating unrest. And we are Iraq’s neighbours. At that time, we saw that the war would turn Iraq into a sectarian country; into a society divided against itself. To the west of Syria there is another sectarian country – Lebanon. We are in the middle. We knew well that we would be affected. Consequently, the beginning of the Syrian crisis, or what happened in the beginning, was the natural result of that war and the sectarian situation in Iraq, part of which moved to Syria, and it was easy for them to incite some Syrian groups on sectarian grounds.
The second point, which might be less crucial, is that when the West adopted terrorism officially in Afghanistan in the early 1980s and called terrorists at that time ‘freedom fighters’, and then in 2006 when Islamic State appeared in Iraq under American sponsorship and they didn’t fight it. All these things together created the conditions for the unrest with Western support and Gulf money, particularly form Qatar and Saudi Arabia, and with Turkish logistic support, particularly since President Erdogan belongs intellectually to the Muslim Brotherhood. Consequently, he believes that, if the situation changed in Syria, Egypt, and Iraq, it means the creation of a new sultanate; not an Ottoman sultanate this time, but a sultanate for the Brotherhood extending from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean and ruled by Erdogan. All these factors together brought things to what we have today. Once again, I say that there were mistakes, and mistakes always create gaps and weak points, but they are not sufficient to cause that alone, and they do not justify what happened. And if these gaps and weak points are the cause, why didn’t they lead to revolutions in the Gulf states – particularly in Saudi Arabia which doesn’t know anything about democracy? The answer is self-evident, I believe.
Mr. President, thank you for giving us the time and for your detailed answers to our questions.
To achieve victory in the Middle East, the US needs to establish and protect rebel enclaves in Syria, and launch another “surge” in Iraq, former CIA director and retired US Army general David Petraeus told a Senate panel.
This was the first public appearance for the retired general and former spymaster, following his April sentencing for revealing classified information to his mistress.
Describing Syria as a “geopolitical Chernobyl… spewing instability” all over the Middle East, Petraeus urged the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) to endorse a policy that would “stop the Syrian air force from flying” and establish safe areas where civilians and anti-government rebels could be protected by US airpower and advisers. Meanwhile, all the elements of the surge were once again required in Iraq, but this time around the Iraqis would have to provide the ground troops, he said.
Petraeus echoed the official position of the State Department that Syrian president Bashar al-Assad was to blame for the rise of Islamic State (IS, also known as ISIS or ISIL), blaming the government’s “barrel bombs” rather than IS for most of the civilian deaths in Syria. The general pushed for the creation of US-backed protected areas where civilians and militia opposed to the government could shelter under the coalition air umbrella. Eventually, he said, US advisers could be deployed there as boots on the ground.
“This is a very complicated military activity, but it is doable,” Petraeus told lawmakers.
Petraeus resigned as director of the CIA in November 2012, following the revelations that he had shared classified information with his biographer – and lover – Paula Broadwell. As part of a plea bargain with the government, he was sentenced to two years’ probation and a $100,000 fine.
The ex-general began his testimony with an apology, calling what he did a “serious mistake” and a “violation of the trust placed in me.” The panel, chaired by Arizona Republican John McCain, repeatedly thanked Petraeus for his military service and commended him on the apology.
Without bringing up the Broadwell scandal at all, McCain praised Petraeus as a “distinguished” leader and argued his 2007 testimony was critical to securing Senate support for the ‘surge’ strategy that “defeated al-Qaeda in Iraq, brought security to the Iraqi people, and created the possibility for meaningful political reconciliation.”
Both Republicans and Democrats on the panel were eager to hear Petraeus’s prescriptions for salvaging the US war effort against Islamic State. A yearlong air campaign by the 60-nation coalition, at the cost of $4 billion, has not dislodged the self-proclaimed Caliphate, while the handful of US-trained Syrian fighters were ambushed and scattered by Al-Nusra Front, an Al-Qaeda affiliate.
Petraeus argued that the “train and equip” program was impossible to abandon, since the US strategy in the region absolutely depended on having a Sunni Arab fighting force. Asked whether there was anyone inside Syria actually available to train, he said that many moderate rebels “drifted” to Islamist groups like Al-Nusra, because they had resources and were fighting against the Assad government. Peeling off these low-ranking members could work, he said, just as it did in Iraq.
Arguing that working with the government in Damascus would damage US credibility among the Sunnis, Petraeus called for lawmakers to resist the Russian effort to “force” the US into an alliance with president Bashar al-Assad. If Russia really wanted to fight ISIS, it could have joined the US-led coalition and asked to be integrated into the air war, Petraeus said.
Russian president Vladimir Putin recently proposed a coordinated international effort against IS, but rebuffed speculation that Russian forces would engage in combat operations in Syria.
“We are providing Syria with quite strong support in terms of equipment, training of military servicemen and weapons,” Putin said. “We are considering various options, but so far what you are talking about is not on the agenda.”
Petraeus did caution against the rush to overthrow Assad, noting that Syria “could actually get worse” if there was no plan for the aftermath.
During Petraeus’s testimony before the SASC, it was reported that retired Marine General John Allen, head of the anti-IS coalition, would be stepping down in November. Sources within the Obama administration told Bloomberg that Allen made the decision out of concern for his wife’s poor health.
The Taliban militant group has ruled out any peace deal with the Afghan government unless Kabul scraps its military deal with Washington and all US-led foreign troops leave the war-torn Asian country.
“If the Kabul administration wants to end the war and establish peace in the country, it is possible through ending the occupation,” Taliban’s new leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour said in a message published on the group’s website on Tuesday.
In order for peace to come about, Kabul also has to revoke “all military and security treaties with the invaders,” he added.
Last year, the Upper House of Afghanistan’s parliament ratified the controversial Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with Washington, according to which about 10,000 American troops would stay in Afghanistan beyond 2014, when the US-led combat mission ended.
The house also approved the NATO Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), which likewise empowered the US-led military alliance to keep troops in the war-torn nation in the next year.
This is while former Afghan President Hamid Karzai had refused to sign the BSA.
Further in his message, the Taliban leader called for an “intra-Afghan” solution to the problems in the Asian country, saying the chaotic situation can come to end “if the country is not under occupation.”
“Any foreign pressure under the pretext of resolving the Afghan problem is not going to resolve the problem but will rather create other problems,” he added.
The Taliban ruled the country between 1996 and 2001 under former leader Mullah Omar, whose death was confirmed by the militant group in July.
Mansour’s rise to power has reportedly prompted a power struggle within the group, with some top leaders refusing to pledge allegiance to him, saying the process that led to his selection was rushed and biased.
In the Monday message, which appeared to be aimed at ending divisions within Taliban ranks, Mansour also said the creation of such rifts are a plot to prolong the presence of the US-led forces in the country.
In early July, representatives of Taliban and the Afghan government held a round of peace talks in the Pakistani city of Murree, north of the capital, Islamabad. The parties agreed to meet again. However, a second round planned for July 18 was canceled after the announcement of the former Taliban leader’s death.
Afghanistan continues to struggle with insecurity and continuing militancy by Taliban years after US-led foreign troops invaded the country in 2001 as part of what Washington the so-called “war on terror, which removed the militant group from power.
At least 13,500 foreign forces remain in Afghanistan despite the end of the US-led combat mission. … Full article
By Eric Zuesse | Aletho News | September 22, 2015
Germany’s ZDF public television network headlines on Tuesday September 22nd, “New U.S. Atomic Weapons to Be Stationed in Germany,” and reports that the U.S. will bring into Germany 20 new nuclear bombs, each being four times the destructive power of the one that was used on Hiroshima. Hans Kristensen, the Director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists, says, “With the new bombs the boundaries blur between tactical and strategic nuclear weapons.”
A former Parliamentary State Secretary in Germany’s Defense Ministry, Willy Wimmer, of Chancellor Merkel’s own conservative party, the Christian Democratic Union, warns that these “new attack options against Russia” constitute “a conscious provocation of our Russian neighbors.”
German Economic News also reports on Chancellor Merkel’s decision to allow these terror-weapons against Russia: “The Bundestag decided in 2009, expressing the will of most Germans, that the US should withdraw its nuclear weapons from Germany. But German Chancellor Angela Merkel did nothing.” And now she okays the U.S. to increase America’s German-based nuclear arsenal against Russia.
Maria Zakharova, of the Russian Foreign Ministry, says: “This is an infringement of Articles 1 and 2 of the Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons,” which is the treaty that provides non-nuclear states the assurance that the existing nuclear powers will not try to use their nuclear status so as to take over the world.
German Economic News says: “The federal government had demanded the exact opposite: The Bundestag decided in March 2010 by a large majority, that the federal government should ‘press for the withdrawal of US nuclear weapons from Germany.’ Even the coalition agreement between the CDU and FDP, the German government in 2009 had promised the withdrawal of nuclear weapons from Büchel. But instead there will be these new bombs.”
Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010, and of CHRIST’S VENTRILOQUISTS: The Event that Created Christianity.
Western Sahara, formerly a Spanish colony, has been occupied by Morocco since 1975. Although the decolonization of Western Sahara has been on the U.N.’s agenda for 40 years, Morocco (together with its allies) has managed to freeze this process, while further entrenching its hold of the occupied territory.
One of the reasons behind Morocco’s aggression and annexation was Western Sahara’s abundance of natural resources, and ever since the occupation began, Morocco has plundered these resources for economic profit. Western Sahara has one of the largest phosphate reserves in the world and is famous for its rich fishing waters, perhaps the richest along the African coast. Furthermore, the prospects for locating oil and gas deposits has attracted exploration in the territory.
In a recent development, which is all too familiar, an Irish oil company San Leon Energy began drilling south of Morocco’s border, on the north-western coast of occupied Western Sahara. For the oil drilling – and other resource extraction – to have legal validity, however, it ought to be carried out with the consent and in the interest of the occupied population. But not only has the local population of Western Sahara not been consulted, the Sahrawi people have explicitly stated their opposition to San Leon’s activities.
In a letter to the U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the President of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) Mohamed Abdelaziz stated, “We urgently request that the Secretary-General condemn these activities, which are in clear violation of international law, and call on Morocco and complicit foreign companies to stop the illegal exploitation of the natural resources of Western Sahara.”
The SADR’s position echoes that of the U.N. and the international community. In 2002, the Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs Hans Corell wrote, that if the exploitation of natural resources “were to proceed in disregard of the interests and wishes of the people of Western Sahara, they would be in violation of the international law principles applicable to mineral resource activities in Non-Self-Governing Territories.”
Contradicting countless U.N. resolutions and the clearly stated position of the SADR, San Leon claims that its “operations are in keeping with our obligations under international law and work for the betterment of all persons in the Southern Provinces of Morocco.” “Southern Provinces” is the term that the Moroccan government uses for Western Sahara.
San Leon is far from the only foreign actor engaged in legally dubious economic activity in occupied Western Sahara. The most profitable economic activity for Morocco in the occupied territory is the phosphate industry. A recent study by the watchdog organization Western Sahara Resource Watch identified nine companies that imported phosphate originating in Western Sahara in 2014 alone. The major importers were companies based in Canada and Lithuania.
Perhaps the most controversial act of the EU with regard to Western Sahara was the re-signing of a fisheries agreement with Morocco in 2013. In 2011, the European Parliament had suspended the agreement. In his speech before the parliament, professor of international law Pål Wrange stated, that were the fisheries agreement extended “it will make the EU and its member states further liable for a violation of international law, namely as a recognition of and assistance to serious breaches of international law by Morocco.”
Under the renewed fisheries agreement Morocco, in return for an annual payment of US$62 million (€40 million), European fishing vessels are granted licenses to fish in its waters, including in Western Sahara. This is legally questionable – as noted by Wrange – because it indirectly accepts Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara. In 2014, the representatives of the Sahrawi people demanded an annulment of the fisheries agreement and took their case to the European Court of Justice.
A somewhat similar dynamic is at play with regard to Israel’s settlement enterprise in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. While taking the position that Israel’s settlement construction in the West Bank is “illegal under international law, constitutes an obstacle to peace and threatens to make a two-state solution impossible”, the EU’s continued trade in settlement produce supports the sustenance of the settlements. Palestinian human rights organization Al Haq even maintains that, “Without the economic support generated by trade with international stakeholders, the very existence of settlements, in particular in the Jordan Valley area, would be seriously threatened.”
It seems that the EU continues to prioritize its economic and strategic interests over international law in its bilateral relations with Morocco. The EU’s and Morocco’s annual trade amounts to nearly US$46 billion (€30 billion), accounting for more than 50 percent of Moroccan trade altogether. In fact, the EU is the biggest trading partner of both Morocco and Israel. In both cases, the EU’s economic leverage is exceptional, and its ability to exert pressure on the occupying parties, if it so wanted, is considerable.